DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have some questions based on the discovery of lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and elsewhere. A couple of months ago, I used an electric sander on a number of windows and doors. The work went on for a few weeks, and halfway through the process, I learned that there was lead paint in the house. I had been wearing a dusk mask (as I always do), but when I took the mask off before lunch or at the end of the day, there would be a ring of paint powder around my nostril.
Am I in trouble? And if so, is it too late to start some process to remove any lead that might have gotten into my body? I try to include oats regularly in my diet. What else would you recommend to flush the lead out of my system? -- H.W., San Jose, California
DEAR H.W.: First, let me say that it's good that you routinely wear a dust mask. You should be aware, though, that the fact that you found paint around your nose would indicate that it might not have been the correct mask for that type of job, or that the mask wasn't fitted properly. (For more on masks and other types of protection, see tinyurl.com/rdvst.)
Lead can enter the body in a number of ways. The most common are the consumption of lead-contaminated substances and the inhalation of lead particles in dust. Water flowing through leaded pipes, of course, can also be a problem. Children are susceptible to the consumption of leaded paint chips that peel off the walls, or the dust from leaded paint that gets on toys and other surfaces likely to get into their mouths. In adults, common methods include cooking with, eating on or storing food in leaded pottery, stemware or containers. Another risk is working in industries where lead-containing compounds are in use.
There are blood tests that can determine whether there is excessive lead in the body, so I recommend that you speak with your physician for a precise evaluation. This is step one before any other decisions regarding treatment can be made.
The good news is that the body has an ability to slowly rid itself of lead contamination. Primary to any treatment for lead poisoning is to stop further exposure. Time, at this point, becomes an ally. Oats are a great food to include in your regular diet, but there is no real evidence that they have special powers to help your body rid itself of any accumulated lead.
FYI, the symptoms of lead poisoning in adults can include: anemia, fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, heart failure, abdominal pain, gout, kidney failure, wrist or foot weakness or reproductive problems. In children, lead poisoning symptoms include: anemia, fatigue, decreased appetite, various digestive problems, sleeplessness, learning problems and lowered I.Q.
A wide range of information is available from the EPA at epa.gov/lead. You can also speak to a specialist at the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.